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Social Inequality: "Something We Should All Be Concerned About"

Melissa Barragan is one of four graduate students who have worked with TC Professor Amy Stuart Wells on projects tied to migration, academic tracking and educational equity. She and fellow TC students Lauren Fox, Kathy Hill and Joe Luesse have been research assistants for Wells on the Building Knowledge for Social Justice Project. Funded by the Ford Foundation, this research is intended to form the basis for broadening Americans' sense of responsibility for social inequality.
Social Inequality:  “Something We Should All Be Concerned About” 
Melissa Barragan, Master of Arts, Sociology and Education

barragan
video
 
Melissa Barragan is one of four graduate students who have worked with TC Professor Amy Stuart Wells on projects tied to migration, academic tracking and educational equity. She and fellow TC students Lauren Fox, Kathy Hill and Joe Luesse have been research assistants for Wells on the Building Knowledge for Social Justice Project. Funded by the Ford Foundation, this research is intended to form the basis for broadening Americans’ sense of responsibility for social inequality.
 
“We want to create an understanding that social inequality is something we should all be concerned about, to frame it around ideas of collective responsibility, so that we all feel accountable to each other for the social inequalities that go on around the nation,” Barragan says.
 
As part of the Ford Foundation-funded project, Barragan has worked on a team of academics and social policy thinkers from several institutions, including TC, who, in Barragan’s words, are “examining how we can educate and train future leaders—lawyers, judges, journalists, educators, university presidents, policy makers—to advance a more inclusive racially and socially just agenda.” Fox, Hill and Luesse are working on other teams that are exploring transformative research, political movements and media, respectively. All four teams are seeking to uncover how and why certain ideas about social inequality were written into the public consciousness. Eventually, they want to rewrite America’s social contract with its citizens, to make inequality a collective rather than individual problem.
 
Barragan is also working with Wells on a five-year study of metropolitan migrations in different areas throughout the United States. Barragan is helping study several school districts in Nassau County, Long Island, to try to discover how metropolitan and district boundaries—and migrations between them—have affected the experiences of Nassau County students. “We looked at a variety of districts that are [either] racially segregated, racially diverse and stable, or changing based on demographic [trends] over the past 30 or so years,” Barragan says. “We are trying to deconstruct traditional ideas of how we treat particular communities, how we think about particular communities, how we think about particular issues around education and inequality in general.”
For her master’s thesis, Barragan studied community organizations and their ability to influence educational equity issues in Los Angeles. In the most densely populated but marginalized immigrant communities in L.A., community groups serve as a powerful voice for their mostly disenfranchised residents, Barragan says. “I really grew interested in community politics, and especially community activism around ideas of education, so for my thesis project I looked at the leadership aspects of community-drive education reform within the Los Angeles Unified school district.”
 
Barragan’s own story is similar to Hill’s in that, as high school students in Southern California, they both moved from racially diverse high schools to more segregated settings and quickly saw the inequity between them. Barragan, a Californian, moved from a diverse community in North County San Diego to a largely Latino, segregated high school in the San Fernando Valley. She immediately saw that the Latino school wasn’t as good, not only in the quality of classes “but in terms of expectations from staff, from teachers,” and insisted on admission to the school’s magnet program even though she had missed a deadline to get in. “I had to push my way to get these opportunities that I thought, given my upbringing, I was entitled to.”
 
Barragan hopes to return to TC some day for her doctoral degree. But first she would like to spend a few years in Washington, D.C., where she can continue to advocate for communities of color but also be close to the policymakers. “D.C. is the ideal place to be,” she says, “just given your proximity to people who are making decisions.”

Published Friday, May. 21, 2010

Social Inequality: "Something We Should All Be Concerned About"

Social Inequality:  “Something We Should All Be Concerned About” 
Melissa Barragan, Master of Arts, Sociology and Education

barragan
video
 
Melissa Barragan is one of four graduate students who have worked with TC Professor Amy Stuart Wells on projects tied to migration, academic tracking and educational equity. She and fellow TC students Lauren Fox, Kathy Hill and Joe Luesse have been research assistants for Wells on the Building Knowledge for Social Justice Project. Funded by the Ford Foundation, this research is intended to form the basis for broadening Americans’ sense of responsibility for social inequality.
 
“We want to create an understanding that social inequality is something we should all be concerned about, to frame it around ideas of collective responsibility, so that we all feel accountable to each other for the social inequalities that go on around the nation,” Barragan says.
 
As part of the Ford Foundation-funded project, Barragan has worked on a team of academics and social policy thinkers from several institutions, including TC, who, in Barragan’s words, are “examining how we can educate and train future leaders—lawyers, judges, journalists, educators, university presidents, policy makers—to advance a more inclusive racially and socially just agenda.” Fox, Hill and Luesse are working on other teams that are exploring transformative research, political movements and media, respectively. All four teams are seeking to uncover how and why certain ideas about social inequality were written into the public consciousness. Eventually, they want to rewrite America’s social contract with its citizens, to make inequality a collective rather than individual problem.
 
Barragan is also working with Wells on a five-year study of metropolitan migrations in different areas throughout the United States. Barragan is helping study several school districts in Nassau County, Long Island, to try to discover how metropolitan and district boundaries—and migrations between them—have affected the experiences of Nassau County students. “We looked at a variety of districts that are [either] racially segregated, racially diverse and stable, or changing based on demographic [trends] over the past 30 or so years,” Barragan says. “We are trying to deconstruct traditional ideas of how we treat particular communities, how we think about particular communities, how we think about particular issues around education and inequality in general.”
For her master’s thesis, Barragan studied community organizations and their ability to influence educational equity issues in Los Angeles. In the most densely populated but marginalized immigrant communities in L.A., community groups serve as a powerful voice for their mostly disenfranchised residents, Barragan says. “I really grew interested in community politics, and especially community activism around ideas of education, so for my thesis project I looked at the leadership aspects of community-drive education reform within the Los Angeles Unified school district.”
 
Barragan’s own story is similar to Hill’s in that, as high school students in Southern California, they both moved from racially diverse high schools to more segregated settings and quickly saw the inequity between them. Barragan, a Californian, moved from a diverse community in North County San Diego to a largely Latino, segregated high school in the San Fernando Valley. She immediately saw that the Latino school wasn’t as good, not only in the quality of classes “but in terms of expectations from staff, from teachers,” and insisted on admission to the school’s magnet program even though she had missed a deadline to get in. “I had to push my way to get these opportunities that I thought, given my upbringing, I was entitled to.”
 
Barragan hopes to return to TC some day for her doctoral degree. But first she would like to spend a few years in Washington, D.C., where she can continue to advocate for communities of color but also be close to the policymakers. “D.C. is the ideal place to be,” she says, “just given your proximity to people who are making decisions.”
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